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Where to begin when starting off learning the guitar? (a beginner's guide)

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In this tutorial, we will try to answer the question that many beginners ask themselves: What should I start with? In which order should I go through these tutorials?

Basics required for this lesson : None
Practice this lesson : None

Starting off learning the guitar is a tricky business. Especially when you don’t take classes and that you are learning alone. You may find yourself stranded, without any guidance, and it is sometimes difficult to know what you should be learning and in which order you should go through the tutorials available on our website (or the internet), and how to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Therefore,the purpose of this tutorial is to clarify things for every beginner facing this situation. However, don’t expect an easy answer to this, because there simply isn’t one. I will explain how and why in the first section, with all of the details that may help you learn by yourself. In the second section, I will also provide you with an example of a typical work plan, which is suitable for beginners on the guitar.

So for those who don’t want to be bothered, jump directly to the second section and follow the suggested plan. For those who want to get the most out of this lesson, make sure you pay attention to the first section.

Some important information

It's not easy to know where to start. When you’re a beginner, you don’t know what you need to learn, neither do you know the order in which you should be learning it all. The problem is that there is no easy answer to this question. That's why I want to be very descriptive about certain aspects, that you really need to understand if you want to learn to play the guitar properly.

You are not clones!

First thing that’s very important to understand: every guitar player is different. Everyone has different wishes and needs, everyone has different goals, everyone has a working method that is unique to himself. A guitar player who wants to improvise on jazz music should not practice the same things as a guitar player who wants to play bawdy songs. It is important to remember that there is no unique learning method. There is no single method that anyone can just follow blindly and be ok with.

Ask yourself the right question

This means the following important thing: whenever you read something on the internet, in a book or even here, it is important that you step back and ask yourself if what you have learned suits you or if it is just a waste of time. You really have to ask yourself every time: "is it useful to me to be learning this right now?"

Of course,this doesn’t impact the fact that you are still a beginner, and that you may not have the answer to this question. But at least you know what to ask yourself now. Unfortunately, as this tutorial is meant to accommodate thousands of different people, I cannot deal with each individual situation and give you a tailor-made advice. I will rather give you a few tips, a few interesting ideas, that will help you find the answer by yourself.

You will make mistakes...

Let’s deal with a question that many beginners ask themselves: how do I avoid making mistakes as I learn? How can I be sure to be learning everything I need? Let's get things straight: stop asking yourself this question. In any case, no matter how you learn, you will eventually make "mistakes" at some point as you are learning. You will sometimes learn things that are not very useful to you and you will also skip things that could have been useful. It is impossible to have a perfect learning method.

...but it’s no big deal!

Don’t feel down about this because in the end, it’s not a big deal. Be aware of that, know that you will make mistakes but put things in perspective because it doesn’t matter! After all, the vast majority of people reading this lesson is taking up the guitar as a hobby, not to play as a professional. You don’t have any strict deadline to meet, you are not taking exams at the end of the year, you have no rush in this learning process. So never mind if you waste some time or if you take a few detours. Just enjoy what you are doing, you have your whole life ahead. Own this, don’t be mad at yourself for making mistakes and you’ll be better off.

Let’s try and find the answer

However, you don’t want to mess it up either. You may have a lifetime ahead, but if you spend your time doing whatever, you won’t improve and you’ll end up feeling frustrated. So take a few minutes to ask yourself the right question and try to find the answer. We’ll see in the second section what a "typical" work plan for beginners looks like. You may already have seen work plans on other websites. The question you have to ask yourself for each part of these methods is : « is it this useful to me or not? ». Again, the answer will not be obvious but you will find several things on T4A that will help you make up your mind and know whether a lesson is suitable for you or not.

Listen to the explanations in our tutorials

In almost all tutorials available on Tabs4acoustic, I always try to explain the purpose of the tutorial. If I do a tutorial on arpeggios, I explain what arpeggios are and what they are used for. This way, you can already see if this is something that you want to play or not. I always try to explain the reason why you may want to go through this specific tutorial, so it will help you know if that's something you need or not. If I make a tutorial teaching harmonic minor scales and I explain that they are used in metal or gypsy music, whereas you want to play reggae music, then the answer becomes obvious.

Follow the prerequisites !

On our website, you will also find a "prerequisites" section. On each tutorial, we specify if  one or more other tutorials (or none at all) are a "prerequisite" to it. It just means that such tutorials must have been studied PRIOR to the one that you're reading. The tutorials posted are based on the assumption that you already know and that you are familiar with the notions covered in the prerequisite tutorials. So pay attention to the prerequisites: if you haven’t studied them before, you may not understand everything and all of a sudden, you may find you’re not ready for this tutorial just yet. You can come back to it later, but in the meantime it won’t make much sense to go ahead until its prerequisites have been mastered.

Remember to check the difficulty level

Our tutorials are also rated by level of difficulty, ranging from 1 to 10. 1 being the easiest and most accessible and 10 being the most difficult. If you are a beginner, I advise that you stay on level 1, 2, maybe 3, but nothing beyond that. Most Level 1 tutorials require little or no previous knowledge and almost all of them can be seen and understood by a beginner. Further on, the more experience you have, the more you will be able to move on to more complicated tutorials.

Check us out on the forum

Don’t forget that there’s also a forum on our website, where you can come to ask questions, and ask for help on what you should be working on. But don’t forget that we need details so we know who we’re talking to. If you just tell us "hello I'm a beginner, with what should I start with?", we’ll only be abel to give you a generic response, similar to what you will find in the second section, and this will not necessarily be adapted to you. So, be sure to specify your current level, your preferred style, what you feel like playing, etc. so that we can give you the best possible advice.

Follow your feelings

As a conclusion to this section, here’s one last tip, which is in my opinion, the best I could give you: follow your feelings. As we said earlier, playing the guitar is a hobby for most people. So just enjoy it. There is no harm in learning things on the guitar, even if it’s not adapted to you. Even if you learn something that is not useful, worst case scenario is it may just end up being a waste of time or it may be too difficult for you, but you won’t play worse because of that. So if you see a tutorial that looks appealing to you, that is interesting to you, don’t hesitate to check it out! Worst thing may be you wasted 1/2 hour of your time and you could come back to it later; best thing may be, you will have learned something awesome that you’ll have a lot of fun.

Here's a work plan

For those of you who are a bit lost after everything we’ve just said, let me offer you a typical work plan for anyone who is starting off with the guitar. But of course, as mentioned in the previous section, I suggest you don’t follow this plan blindly without asking yourself some questions. For each tutorial, ask yourself if you're interested in it, if it will help you in what you want to play, if you feel ready to go through it. Don’t hesitate to set aside some tutorials for later, or even completely ignore the ones you’re not interested in at all.

Also note that this process is not to be followed as a sequence of events. Some things can and should be studied at the same time, and you don’t necessarily have to master a tutorial before moving on to the next one. The best example is regarding chords and rhythms: without chords you cannot play the song but you cannot play the song without a rhythm either and attempting to master chords before beginning working on the rhythm would be a waste time. Therefore, work on both at once.

You then have to determine the amount of work you can achieve based on the time availability you have. Don’t hesitate to take your time and don’t skip steps. The goal is to learn all of this correctly, little by little, not to learn half of it as quickly as possible

Compulsory basics

To begin with, there are three lessons that every guitar players should go through asap, before anything, in order to take a good start:

  • Ultra-beginner guitar lesson: this tutorial is designed for all of those who have never ever touched a guitar before. You will learn important vocabulary notions to help you learn the guitar properly, as well as explanations on how the instrument operates.
  • How to tune your guitar: it is not easy for a beginner to tune an instrument, but it is very important to play on a guitar that is properly tuned in. The sooner you learn this, the sooner you will be able to get tuned in on your own.
  • Body and the left handposition: without a doubt, this is the most important lesson, I can never overstate how important it is. The vast majority of problems that you will encounter in the early stages of your learning process will be due to having a bad position. The sooner you learn and apply a good position, the better off you will be.

Reading music

Since the most of music is written, it is important for you to know how to read it. There are four ways used to explore this, which are more or less important depending on what you want to do. They will not be all useful to you in the beginning so feel free to set aside some tutorials, but try to come back to them later, they’re always worth going through at some point.

  • Learning how to read guitar tabs: tab is a is a very widely used format in guitar music, It’s rare not to find a piece in this format. In addition, many examples and exercises given in the following tutorialss are written in tab format. So learn that well, you will need it!
  • How to read a chord progression (coming soon): chord progressions (which many people mistakenly call tabs) are another format that is widely used, especially in song-writing. If your goal is to play typical "folk" pieces, then you will eventually have to learn how to read them.
  • Rhythm notation (coming soon): though this is a little less important than the two tutorials mentioned previously, learning rhythmic notation will be of huge help when it comes to learning how to play on a beat. This is dealt with in a series of tutorials, you do not have to watch them all at once (it is actually not recommended). Learn it all gradually, along with the other tutorials, according to what you feel like or need. If you hesitate to study strumming pattern theory, don’t hesitate to check out the introduction tutorial  rhythm for beginners, which will fully explain inside out what this is all about..
  • Introduction to music theory for beginners: this is a bonus for those of you who are interested in it (which means that if you’re not interested in this, it is totally fine to skip it), this tutorial will teach you music notation basics. If you intend to read scores (which can be found mainly in classical music, jazz and Celtic music), go for it; otherwise, put this aside for the moment because you can always return to it later, if you decide that you want or need it.

Technique

Once you understand how to read music, let’s now learn how to play it. In order to do so, the following section of this method will be divided in two parts: left hand and right hand. You have to work on both simultaneously: take a tutorial on the left hand, a tutorial on the right hand, work on both and move on to the next tutorials. Don’t focus only on one or the other, otherwise you will have a lot of catching up to do before you can start playing pieces.

Left hand

A very good starting point to begin training your left hand, which will be useful to 99% of guitar players, is to learn the chords. In order to do so, there are two major tutorials to look at so you get the basics, and two other tutorials that can be important:

  • Learning how to read and play chords on the guitar: In this tutorial, you will learn how to read a chord chart and how to place your fingers so that you can play your first chords. Warning: this is harder than it seems, it will take you some time before you can play all the chords shown there. So start right away and work on the different chords, little by little.
  • Chord progressions (coming soon): once you know how to play two or three chords, it is very important to learn how to play them one after the other, since you spend a lot of time doing this in some pieces. It is not necessary to know how to play all the chords that are presented in the previous tutorial, which is why I suggest you tackle it as soon as you are able to play two chords properly, while practicing the other chords.
  • Power chords for beginners: This tutorial is aimed at those who want to play rock later on, it adds up to the chords seen in the first tutorial. It is not necessary to begin working on them right away, but if you have time and you start feeling comfortable with your first chords, this is a very helpful addition to your knowledge.
  • Chromatismfor beginners (coming soon): to finish with the left hand, I advise you to go through this tutorial and practice the exercises shown every day, no matter what your level and your goals are. There, you will find an exercise which will help you develop skills and independence on your left hand fingers, and this will be useful later on. It is a bit daunting, it is purely technical, but it will tremendously help you in being able to control your left hand.

Right hand

To play the guitar, you have two options for the right hand: you can work with your fingers or you can use a pick. The best solution is to learn with both so that you’re not limited in what you play. But to start off, focus on one method before learning the other. And if you want my own opinion, I recommend that you begin by learning with the pick.

  • How to hold the pick: this is basic lesson for starting with the pick, where I will fully explain to you how to hold it properly. You will also learn the pros and cons of practicing with a pick, as well as some tips on how to choose the pick.
  • How to strum chords with a pick (coming soon): once you know how to hold your pick, you must learn how to strum chords with it and this is what this tutorial is about.
  • How to strum chords with your fingers: if you choose not to work with a pick, you must learn how to play chords with your fingers. This tutorial is not available yet but we will update this list as soon as it is!
  • Arpeggios for beginners: here is the last technique to go through with the right hand: arpeggios. You don’t necessarily need to know this from the beginning, as many songs do not use any arpeggio, but if that's what you want to do, go for it. If you don’t care, put it aside. And if you do not know what it is, check out the beginning of the tutorial and see for yourself as to whether or not you like it!

Strumming patterns

Here’s the last important part for every beginner to study: strumming patterns. For those of you who watched the introductory tutorial introduction to rhythm for beginners, you know what it is; for everyone else, just know that it is the act of strumming a rhythm on the guitar, usually with chords. In order to practice on this, you must already have a satisfactory level with your right hand (either with a pick o with your fingers), so wait until you have practiced a bit with your right hand before you get started. There is no need to wait until you have mastered the chord though. Practice playing strumming patterns as soon as you can because it will not be easy. In order to do so, same thing as for the rhythm, there are several strumming patterns to help you gradually learn how to strum: strumming patterns for guitar players.

Conclusion

Going through these tutorials will provide you a good knowledge to help you get started on the guitar. In a few weeks or months (depending on how you improve), you'll be playing your first songs consisting of a series of chord on a rhythm pattern and you will also be able to accompany a singer (or even accompany yourself). Further on, according to what you want to do, you will need to learn more things, more chords, other rhythms, scales, techniques, etc... but this goes beyond the scope of this tutorial.

Remember that these are just suggestions, you do not have to watch every single tutorial shown here and feel free to explore other tutorials if you feel like it. Good luck!

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